Friday, January 01, 2016

Books read in 2016

Read in 2016 (5 = 4 + 1; NF 2

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (1): 41 Stories by O Henry, 



PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY  (1):  (Vasistha's Yoga translated by Swami Venkatesananda).

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (1): (A History and Philosophy of Fluid Mechanics by G. A. Tokaty)

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 1+ Poetry: 1+ Non-fiction: 0): (Jhoota Sach: Desh ka BHavishya by Yashpal)
Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 1): Bhagavad Gita by Maharishi Ved Vyas,

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2015, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Googlies: Conflict of Interest, Selection Puzzles & the Lack of Dashers and Bashers

"Dhoni Stifled By the Lack of Later Dasher in the Team", says Monga, in his latest article on Cricinfo. India lost its match against Australia, and it was too obvious that a lack of big-hitter at number six hurt India's chances. Sadly it seems that this could remain the script for Indian losses in this world cup. I believe the selection of the final fifteen was not made on merit. It did not account for either the recent form or level of experience at this level or even fitness of the players. The backroom politics, big money, IPL scum and scams, petty regional and filial feelings, and the obscure love for bureaucratic mediocrity, all are to blame.

Maybe someone needs to go to the courts, even if it is to the virtual ones, and ask the following questions from Dhoni, selectors, BCCI board, the Sports Ministry and the machinery that punishes tax evaders, rule breakers, etc:

(a) Dhoni and BCCI selectors: why not pick the in-form batman, all rounder, one of the best finisher in the game, Man of the Series in the last world cup? 
For everyone who follows Indian cricket, domestic and international, the very idea that somehow Yuvraj does not make the cut, is quite inexplicable. Maybe as inexplicable as the conflict of interest with a selector father and selected (poor on pitch / poor on paper or POP, POP) son... Yes, we all know. These days, Yuvraj is no selector's Binny, while Stuart Singhs, POP POP is King!

(b) Bring all your calculators, selection metrics, performance cards from all formats of the game, and justify the inclusion of Stuart Binny over a long list of more consistent performers, both with bat and ball. I can easily list Murali Vijay, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Rishi Dhawan, Ashok Dinda, Manoj Tewari, etc ). Yes yes, I know, we have a bowling all rounder and POP POP can swing!

(c) Can somebody explain to me how Srinivasan and Dhoni navigate through conflict of interest issues? Who is not bothered by the fact that BCCI officials are IPL team owners, and run for profit companies that own IPL teams, and the same IPL teams have players who are their employees on roll on their other companies. Can anyone take charge and act soon to punish the teams, the players and the officials involved in the IPL scam? Prime Minister Sir, here is a perfect example to set for fair play and AAP party, here is a perfect example of a labyrinth in the search of a broom.

(d) What is the criteria for picking selectors and what is the criteria for selection if all the consistent performances in a domestic competition usually go unnoticed and will not get you a call to the national team? How many players in the current team have played their fair share of Ranji trophy and domestic cricket? How many have first class records unmatched by the domestic performers who are consistently overlooked?

Like most of the fans of Indian cricket, I also keep hoping against hope that in spite of all this, the Indian team will prevail. I also hope it will continue to find a string of stellar performances from Sachins, Rahuls, Anils, Sauravs, Jagwals, who thrive in spite of the system. Even for the World Cup in 2015, I have hopes for one or more exceptional performances from that fiery Kohli, focused Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, persevering yet underrated Rahane, workhorse Ashwin, amazing in ODIs, dud in tests Rohit Sharma, and the Indian Cements employees/ Chennai Superkings mascots (Raina, Dhoni, Jadeja). Sometimes all it takes is two great performances in a match, one from a batsman, one from a bowler, to earn the win.

But fairness, transparency, respect for both talent and for trust placed by a billion people, are all a different matter. When will be find a voice as a nation to condemn this endless chain of corruption, so widespread that even catches are dropped or picked, balls left or nicked, based on how much someone somewhere has bet on it! The maze of corruption seems draw everyone in. I wonder how will we ever succeed as a nation without getting out of this  labyrinth?

We will watch it all as it unfolds. Yes, the World Cup 2015, too, we shall watch it as it unfolds. With its dashers and bashers. Mavericks and meritorious. Sons and duds.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Neend ke Shahar / नींद के शहर

नींद के कई शहर घूम आया हूँ ।
जस्बा, जज़्बात, कस्बा, कौम,
सब धुत सोये पड़े हैं । सरेआम
चोर लूट कंधे पर टाँगे गलियों
गलियों से गुजर रहे हैं । कुत्ते,
पुलसिये भी जागे पर अलसाये
तमाशा देख-से रहे हैं, अधखुली
पलकों से देख-से रहें हैं । तालीम
कह कर, बच्चों तक को
छोटी उम्र से सुस्त-दिमागी,
आलसी-सोच पिलाई जाती है ।

इक्का-दुक्का बल्ब-सा रोशन
हेडलाइट बुद्धिजीवी सरपट
दौड़ रहा है, मानो कोई बेताल
पीठ पर चढ़ा उसे सता
रहा हो, घर-घर का हाल,
अलार्म घड़ियों का अकाल,
मुर्गों की कमीं और बदहाल,
धुत, गहरी नींद में बने बुत,
लाशों-से निश्चिंत जनमानस
दिखा कर कह रहा हो, जगा!
हिम्मत है तो जगा के देख !

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Books read in 2015

Read in 2015 (100 = 40 + 60; NF 8
FICTION IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION --  (17): Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago [translated from Portuguese], Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rhadopis of Nubia by Naguib Mahfouz [translated from Arabic], A Russian Beauty and Other Stories, Tyrants Destroyed and Other Stories, Details of a Sunset and Other Stories and Nabokov's dozen by Vladimir Nabokov, Harlot High and Low by Honore de Balzac, The Sleepwalkers: A Trilogy by Hermann Broch Artifices, The Aleph, The Maker, In Praise of Darkness, Brodie's Report, The Book of Sand, and Shakespeare's Memory from Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges [translated by Andrew Hurley], For a Night of Love by Emile Zola [translated by Andrew Brown],

NOVEL / FICTION IN ENGLISH (9): The Tomb of the Twelfth Imam by Richard Bulleit, Grimus by Salman Rushdie, The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, A Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, (Drown by Junot Diaz), Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, (House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III), (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche), Collected Short Stories, Volume 3 by W. Somerset Maugham,

POETRY IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION (10):  Metamorphosis by OVID [translated by Ralf Humphries], Human Landscapes by Nazim Hikmet [translated from Turkish by Randy Blasing and Multu Konuk], Poems of... by Nazim Hikmet [translated from Turkish by Randy Blasing and Multu Konuk], The Complete Poems by Catullus [translated by Guy Lee], Why did you leave the Horse Alone? by Mahmoud Darwish [translated from Arabic by Mohammad Shaheen]

English translations of Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Eswaran, S. Radhakrishnan, P. Lal, Aurobindo Ghosh, Stephen Mitchell, 

POETRY IN ENGLISH (52): The First Part of King Henry the Sixth, The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth, The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth, King Richard The Third, Titus Adronicus, The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, King John, The Taming of the Shrew, King Richard the Second, The Merchant of Venice, The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, King Henry the Fifth, Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Julius Ceaser, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, Troilus and Cressida, All's Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello: The Moor of Venice, Macbeth, King Lear, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest, King Henry the Eighth, Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, Sonnets, A Lover's Complaint, A Passionate Pilgrim, Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music and The Phoenix and the Turtle by William Shakespeare or The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (44), Teaching a Man to Unstick His Tail by Ralph Hamilton, Lighthead by Terrance Hayes, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe, The Endarkment by Jeffery McDaniel, Totem by Gregory Pardlo, Selected Poems by W. B. Yeats, Fractals by Sudeep Sen, Mystery, So Long by Steven Dobyns,

PHILOSOPHY / RELIGION / MYTHOLOGY  (1):  The Essential Kabbalah by Daniel Matt,.

POPULAR SCIENCE / ECONOMICS (2): The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell,

NON-FICTION - OTHER (5): (Primitive Song by C. M. Bowra),  The Artist as a Critic by Oscar Wilde, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay towards an Autobiography of the Race Concept by du Bois, From the Southland by Thomas Lux, W. B. Yeats: Last Poems - A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Jon Stallworthy,

MAHABHARATA (by Mahrishi Ved Vyas; translated from Samskrit into English by Kisari Mohun Ganguly) (0/18):

Hindi / Urdu / Punjabi (Fiction/Mythology: 1+ Poetry: 1+ Non-fiction: 0): Rachnavali by Raskhaan, Maansarovar 6 by Prem Chand. रसख़ान कृत रचनावली, कन्हैयालाल मिश्र प्रभाकर कृत माटी हो गयी सोना
Sanskrit (Fiction: 0+ Poetry: 1): Bhagavad Gita by Maharishi Ved Vyas,

(If I am through more  than 50% of the book, it goes into the list of the year past, otherwise it appears in the new list next year. See here for the books read in 2014, with a selection of my favorite reads from the year past.)

Favorite reads from 2015
1. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: I had not read most of the historical plays before, and was not acquainted as well with Sir John Falstaff as every human being ought to be 

2. The Sleepwalkers: A Trilogy by Hermann Broch: It is three novels, plus a collection of essays and a few poems, rolled into one incredible journey into the very soul of at least six exceptional characters from an exceptional time in German history (1888-1918).
3. Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges There is no match, and perhaps never will be, to the intellectual audacity and breadth of knowledge that came naturally to Borges. 

4. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe One of the greatest stories ever written.
5. Bhagavad Gita by Maharishi Ved Vyas and its various translations An ongoing obsession for me, to delve as deeply as possible into this celestial song, this philosophical treasure, this great book of couplets!

6. From the Southland by Thomas Lux Before I read Thomas Lux the poet, I met Thomas Lux, the person. Insanely curious,  exceptionally generous and well-read. This book of non-fiction is both a lens into the working of the mind and heart of this wonderful poet and person, and a timeless collection of sketches about an America we barely see though it surrounds us. The America of fire-breathers, cops, bug-watchers, bridgekeepers and more.

7. The Artist as a Critic by Oscar Wilde As witty and wild and joyous as any critical writing can be.

8. The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver: Offers insight into the art and science of prediction.

9. Human Landscapes by Nazim Hikmet World literature is enriched by all the works of Hikmet; he captures melancholy, struggles, joys of common Turkish folk.
10. Metamorphosis by OVID:  

11. Lighthead by Terrance Hayes  Powerful and poignant poems.

12. The Kingdom of Ordinary Time by Marie Howe

13. The Endarkment by Jeffery McDaniel The range of emotions his similes, metaphors and line of thought inspire is only matched by his mastery of the craft.

14. Harlot High and Low by Honore de Balzac One must always read Balzac as there is no better way of becoming acquainted with the joys and failings of human beings.

15. Selected Poems by W. B. Yeats Grandmaster poet

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bahut din beetay... (बहुत दिन बीते...)

बहुत दिन बीते… कुछ ख़ास कहा लिखा नहीं । एक ढर्रा है जिंदगी, रोज़मर्रा एक आदत है, और वक्त है किसी नदी सा, बस बहे जाता है, बहे  हैं । इस भाग-दौड़ की दुनिया में कोई बैठ कर क्यों लिखे, कोई किसी का लिखा क्यों पढ़े? और पढ़े भी तो हिंदी में लिखा कौन पढ़े?

यूँ सरपट दौड़ते-दौड़ते, ख्यालों के कितने पनघट पीछे छोड़, मैं एक अरसे से निःशब्द रहा हूँ । काव्य एक साधना है, कल्पना और रचना निःशब्द रह कर भी की जा सकती है, पर अनकही, अनसुनी कल्पना और रचना मिथ्या है । चार कदम भी नहीं चलता, जब शब्दों के झुरमुठ आ आ कर, गुनगुनाने लगते हैं । कोई भँवरों की गुँजन सी, कोई पहले प्यार की चुभन सी, किसी हार की अधभूली टीस, कभी करुणा, कभी क्लेश मेरे अंतरमन के भवसागर में शब्द, वाक्य और छंद ऐसे उठा देते हैं, जैसे समंदर-ताल से निकलने को तैयार बुलबुलें हो । पहले यहाँ -तहाँ बैठ झट से इन मचलते, चंचल, क्षणभंगुर भावनाओं को कागज़ों पर जकड़ लिया करता था पर कुछ महीनों से उस आदत को भी विदा दे दी है ।

 क्या करूँ, काव्य को कलह का कारण, कारक कैसे कहूँ? यह दुविधा मेरे लिए नई नहीं, बरसों से  नावों में सवार मैं दो भिन्न से दिखने बाले घाटों की ओर खींचता आया हूँ । आज जैसा कोई दिन आता है, याद दिलाता है कि मेरे अंतर का कवि मेरे पालक और साधक शिक्षक-विज्ञानिक अवतार के जतन या प्रताप से प्रताड़ित या प्रभावित हो मूक हो गया है । इस चुप्पी को तोड़ने के लिए और कवि को कलम और उसके पूरक और प्रेरक पाठकों से जोड़ने के लिए, मैं अपनेआप से वादा करता हूँ, कि कैसे न कैसे हर हफ्ते मैं इसी ब्लॉग पर कोई कविता, कल्पना, टिप्पणी जरूर प्रकाशित करूंगा ।


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Twenty-first Century Buddha

In this century of misquoted Buddha
his statues walk into Las Vegas bars
and stare at the bodies abandoning
their worldly disguises.

Award winning poets
admit spirituality into their poems
by pronouncing his name.

Smiling or sulking, in bronze or wood, Buddha
does not protest when devotees of Herman Hesse
transcend their consciousness
with forlorn fumes.

Always epitomized as good Buddha
leaves his son and wife, midlife
and embraces dhyan-cha'n-Zen,
preaches abandonment.

And ever-idolized Buddha (how ironic!)
finds his monks living under tyrants.
Too meek are lambs, are hunted and must be
by wolves who never turn Buddhists

In our world, the 'Americanized' Buddha
survives in University halls,
in tantric sex talks, in celebrity balls -
stupefied, satirized, stoned.


First appeared in Muse India, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor takes you on an elegiac journey, introducing you to complex personal histories and tragedies. Set in northern Kenyan's dust, darkness and daylight, this novel is a memoir of lives transformed by tribal and political conflicts and colonial processes and imperialistic excesses. The novel presents a tour de force narrative about lost fathers, brothers, sons and women and descends into the labyrinth-like individual stories to present a tale of a family, country, humanity.

A sister Ajany returns to Kenya to find her brother Odidi. She has seen his corpse, but she seeks a closure, an understanding of Odidi's life before his tragic end. The siblings grew up in a dusty Kenyan countryside, in a massive house, where all the books are inscribed with a name of a foreigner or a stranger, Hugo Bolton. Their mother Akai is a mysterious women, who has her own complex narrative of love lost and found, that emerges in bits and parts as we read the novel. Their father Nyipir is a person who in one life acquires many  incarnations, some as he is forced by his own needs, greed and wants, and many to just survive Kenya's turbulent times. Servant of a white man, gravedigger, sepoy, cattle thief, husband, father, a friend to many smugglers and wanderers, a young man who wanted to travel to Burma to retrieve his father and brother's bodies to bury them in their own country. There is a fascinating singer of water songs, Ali Hida Dada, a policemen whose own complex life journey crisscrosses through the personal histories of Nyipir, Akai, Ajany, Odidi and a fifth person, Galgalu who is attached to the Nyipir-Akai household, like a foster son. Isiah Bolton, a son in search of a father who disappeared in Kenya. There are a handful of other characters that complete the list: Justina (Odidi's lady love), Selena (Isiah's mom), a trader (a keeper of secrets) and Chaudhary (a sly shopkeeper). Each character is developed with acute sensibility and sympathy, allowing us to see nuances in their personalities, deceits and shadows, exposing both bitter and sweet versions of their projected and veiled selves.
Dust is beautifully written book. As the narrative advances through present or past, Owour delivers many remarkable, poetic short sentences. Short sentences and paragraphs that puncture your thoughts. You gasp before you carry on reading. You gasp first at the beauty of the wordplay, then you grasp the insight or ache that each needle-shot sentence releases. The novel emerges in all its intricate and articulate richness through lives transformed by a recent colonial experience as well as political upheavals and corruption in an emergent nation. Perhaps you can appreciate this novel more if you have a native sympathy with the fate of people scarred by colonial pasts and a present corrupted, manipulated by economic interests of multinational companies & their local, vocal, powerful, corrupt collaborators. Some very heartbreaking episodes fill this novel, some heartrending scenes, some events that fill you with disgust and disenchantment, and as a counterpoint, there a few passages that bring peace, understanding, pleasure, closure.

Growing up in India I always knew this dust that consumed and subsumed everything, a dust full of broken promises as well as crushed dreams and desires, a dust laced with blood and sweat of the tormented and the tormentors, a dust we miss when we are away from the nation, a dust that masks and hides hurt, longing, feeling and thoughts. As a writer, I struggle to show this dust, capture its prevalence and importance. As a reader, I seek writing that recognizes it, and removes its veil to reveal narratives that remain concealed in our plain sight. Owuor excels as she accomplishes this. In Dust, Owuor delivers a phenomenal saga that touches upon the human condition, deeply appreciative of sibling and parental affection, deeply conscious of tacit and long-lasting friendships, keenly aware of events that shape human destiny. The opening chapter where Odidi runs and runs, the landscapes through which various protagonists walk or night sounds they hear, Ajany's search for her brother's past and especially the scene where she finds the spot on tarmac still covered with his dried blood...  are all crafted with the skill of a seasoned writer.

The overall story, and the novel's many exceptional passages, are so beautifully crafted and delivered that I am convinced that the novel is destined for a long haul, to be read as a classic by our future generations. After the death of Chinua Achebe, I ached to find some other voice in the world literature who could write with his clarity and sympathy about the non-Western world. I always wondered if  Toni Morrison's raw and lucid style can be emulated in fiction written about men and women who live in erstwhile colonized countries. To place Owuor's book on a similar pedestal is perhaps the highest praise I can offer for this work.

Undoubtedly Owuor has delivered a masterpiece, a work of art that inspires and awes you for it touches many a raw nerve, and brings to light events, ideas, thoughts that are too murky to be appreciated otherwise. Though the narrative unfolds in realms and through descriptions unfamiliar to the imaginative and everyday life of many readers (my explanation for harsher reviews), I think Owuor's sparkling writing is capable of awakening many eyes, hearts and minds to such life-stories. Appreciating the novel Dust does require examination of our own biases, created by our readings and upbringings. Perhaps we need more novels like Dust if we really wish to comprehend the cultural and societal changes taking place in many non-Western nations. Even if the novel treads through threads far from your experience and comfort zone, read it for its music, descriptions and haunting prose and marvel at the author for unraveling secrets of human condition, secrets only a writer from a distant, dusty nation knows.